For too long, I realize now, I derived much of my identity from being a kid. I am the youngest, by six years, of my siblings. I am the youngest of my closest friends. I equate most of my high school years with riding in the backseat of someone else’s car subjected to someone else’s music choice because I was the last kid in my class to get a driver’s license.
Serious studies have been conducted about the advantages of being bigger and older, but for me, being the youngest always provided a safety net of low expectations. Your tactical mistakes were mere byproducts of inexperience. Your athletic deficiencies couldn’t yet be categorized as deficiencies until afforded the benefit of time.
When I was a freshman in high school, no more than 100 pounds, I would antagonize seniors twice my size believing my slight stature granted me some type of weakling immunity. It probably did, but it’s amazing I didn’t get stuffed in more lockers.
What I’ve found, of course, is that banking your existence on perpetual youth is a flawed long-term strategy, like deciding to build in more closet space by eliminating all of your bathrooms. At some point nature takes over. And what I’ve also found is after all those years defining myself by being young, I am increasingly wrapped up in the reality of getting old.
To be clear, I don’t approach aging with dread, or maudlin “happy to be on this side of the grass” humor. I don’t know my PSA count. There remains to this day that fleeting lapse whenever I plop a six-pack of beer on the counter that I reach for my driver’s license. Sometimes the clerk will scan it over briefly as if I were showing him pictures of my vacation and he doesn’t want to be rude, but it otherwise serves no practical purpose.
So I know it is happening. I go to the bathroom roughly 37 times a day. My wife can take comfort knowing I’m invisible to the parade of twentysomething sales assistants in my office. The other day while lacing up my skates for a men’s hockey game I remarked to a friend I needed another pair.
“You know,” he said, “it will probably be the last pair of skates you ever buy.”
Which is fine. I have spent enough time on meditation apps to understand the value of acceptance. So it’s not that I resist aging as much as I just think about it — a lot: lying awake in bed, riding the subway, while perusing online for skates that apparently I should splurge for because I might end up dying in them.
You’d think one benefit of recognizing your time is limited is making better use of it. But I’ve never been wired that way. I am a notorious obsessive, which I contend can be helpful when the objective is writing a book, or training for a triathlon, but perhaps less so when anticipating everything falling apart on you.
Because that’s the other part. The challenges of aging are still mostly in my head — or perhaps on my head if you want to factor in my hairline. And yet I still experience this curious dynamic of forgetting where exactly I fall in the order of things. I’ll be on the train, for instance, next to some man who invariably seems older than me. He wears a serious expression and more expensive shoes. When I peer shamelessly over his shoulder at the complicated spreadsheet on his laptop, I take perverse pleasure in knowing he is trapped even tighter in the jaws of middle age than I am. Then we make eye contact, and I recognize him, and I recall he finished three years behind me in high school.
It’s a confusing time. At work when late to a meeting, I take pride in running down the hall, if only to prove I can still do so without the need for a defibrillator. We were gathered in a conference room one day and it was the end of a discussion—I forget about what—and I said something that made a young woman in my office laugh. I’m well past the point of investing much in these little episodes, but it felt mildly validating. Or at least it did until she spoke.
“You remind me so much of my dad,” she said.
I didn’t have anything else to say so I headed back to the men’s room for the third time since lunch.
Note: I wrote this essay for the Rye Free Reading Room’s “Writes & Bites” event on Jan. 10, 2018.